Baseball to Birds, a Lifetime Scouting
In 1972, while working the sports desk at the Columbia Tribune, an editor asked Bill Clark if he would cover a birding event. “I knew three kinds of birds at the time: the Thanksgiving Turkey, the Christmas Goose and the Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Clark says.
But the story he wrote—a write-up of Missouri Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count—got an entire page. “I was hooked,” Clark says.
Clark, 77, is retired from a 36-year scouting career that included 18 years with the Cincinnati Reds and 11 running the international program for the Atlanta Braves. Early morning bird watching, he says, became a “pop-off valve” while working a stressful job that took him all over the world.
“I’d get back to the motel at 11 a.m. and be ready to go back to the ballpark.” Every Wednesday, as they have for the last four years, Clark and a handful of friends go birding. Clark says he’s been to a third of the roughly 900 sites in the state that are either owned or managed by the Department of Conservation. His participation has been remarkably consistent.
“I haven’t missed in 203 straight weeks.”
Each week, the group reports their sightings through the Conservation Area Checklist Project or CACHE—a cooperative agreement between the Audubon Society and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The project, online at www.mobirds.org, provides the Department with bird population data year-round. There are rare and endangered birds to be seen in Missouri, but that’s not what Clark likes about birding. “I don’t chase the rarities,” he says. “To me it’s just so important that all of these sites get some attention.”
For Clark, the experience of seeing a bird like the Arctic tern is to observe the world at work. “To be a part of something like migration,” Clark says. “How can a bird fly from the Arctic Circle to Argentina twice a year? Amazing.”